Monday, February 11, 2013

Magdalene survivors expect apology

Steven O'Riordan, head of Magdalene Survivors Together, with Magdalene survivors Marina Gambold (centre) and Maureen Sullivan (right) speak to the media outside Leinster House this afternoon. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien/The Irish TimesA delegation from the Magdalene Survivors Together group says it expects Taoiseach Enda Kenny to deliver an apology on behalf of the State following a three-hour meeting in Government Buildings.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore also attended the meeting with six women, four of whom want to remain anonymous.

Maureen Sullivan and Marina Gambold, who spent time in a laundry in Wexford, described Mr Kenny as “very nice and very kind” and “very sympathetic”.

When they told Mr Kenny about their experiences, the Taoiseach told them it was important for him to “put a face” to the stories in the report compiled by Senator Martin McAleese.

“That meant something to us,” Ms Sullivan said.

The women told them their "healing process" could only take place if a State apology was delivered. They also said it was important that Mr Kenny had said he believed their stories.

Asked by reporters if Mr Kenny told them he would make a full apology, Ms Sullivan said: “Yes, I think that’s coming”.

The Magdalene Survivors Together group head Steven O’Riordan confirmed that the issue of possible compensation was not discussed.

“We didn’t think that we’d get a three-hours meeting with the Taoiseach…they weren’t rushed in any capacity. A lot of the women told things that they haven’t told anybody else,” he said.

Mr O’Riordan said it was important that Mr Gilmore attended. “He was quite compassionate as well for a man who comes across as not so compassionate in the media,” Mr O’Riordan said.

The Labour Party had been strong advocates for the Magdalenes, Mr O’Riordan added.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has published the wording for its private members motion on the Magdalene laundries, to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow and Wednesday.

The party’s justice spokesman Niall Collins said the motion called for an apology to be given to the women of the Magdalene Laundries by the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Oireachtas and all citizens of the State, for what they had to endure. 

It also calls for the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Justice and Equality to co-ordinate remaining aspects of the State’s response, “including all forms of redress which should be provided”.

Mr Collins described the Government’s response to the report carried out by Senator Martin McAleese as “deeply disappointing”. The Magdalene women and their families were “left feeling angry and let down”, he added.

Sinn Fein’s Aengus O Snodaigh said many of the women were elderly and some were unwell. “The time for an apology is now. The women and girls did not voluntarily offer their services and labour, but were young and vulnerable,” he said. 

“Besides the apology they are due, they must be compensated for lost wages and pension. They should be looked after in terms of their health and housing needs.”

State involvement 

Justice for Magdalenes, another organisation representing survivors of laundries run by religious orders, yesterday sought clarification as to the purpose of the meeting today. 

Spokeswoman for Justice for Magdalenes Claire McGettrick last night said the Taoiseach and Tánaiste knew what the issues were and that the women wanted an apology and compensation.

She said the organisation had a survivor-centred ethos and, following communication from the Taoiseach’s department on Friday about the meeting, they sought clarification about its purpose and agenda.

Ms McGettrick said it was very important to note that while the report said 26.5 per cent of the women were in the laundries through State involvement, that figure did not take account of those returned to the laundries by gardaí when they escaped, the financial interactions of the State or official inspections.

Ms McGettrick denied reports that they were snubbing the meeting. She said the women were elderly and private and issues such as media glare were important. 

When the women met the report committees chairman, then senator Martin McAleese, they were afforded privacy and wanted assurance on this in writing from the Taoiseach’s department, she added.

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